Implementation of the SSTF Recommendations – The Case for Coordination and Sequencing

President, ASCCC


The recommendations of the Student Success Task Force (SSTF) require a broad array of changes at California’s community colleges. Ideally, new policies are not enforced until campus cultures have prepared for the changes – including the establishment of the infrastructure that is needed to provide an array of student services in a timely manner. Regardless of one’s view of the costs associated with the proposed changes and how much can be accomplished without additional resources, forcing change without adequate preparation is irresponsible and short-sighted. Already there have been reports of over-zealous implementation of aspects of the recommendations resulting in unintended negative consequences for students. Most notable are a non-traditional student in a high-unit program losing priority registration due to unit accumulation when she had only two courses left to prepare her for transfer and an instance where students lost priority due to failure to progress, absent any prior assistive intervention or even a minimal notice. Education policy should be implemented thoughtfully and with appropriate safeguards, not in a haphazard and unpredictable manner. One should not need a warning label with tiny print to understand the consequences of one’s actions when seeking to reach an educational goal at a college.

Presently, the approach to implementation has been to identify what are believed to be the “low-hanging fruit” and to begin with these components first. Unfortunately, the emphasis appears to be on speed as opposed to a reasonable and rational approach to implementation. The Chancellor’s Office has indicated its intent to ensure field input during the implementation process by establishing implementation “workgroups.” To date, only one “workgroup” has been established, and other existing advisory groups have been identified to serve as workgroups. The one stand-alone workgroup established thus far is the “Chancellor’s Office Enrollment Priorities Workgroup.” Despite this workgroup having only met once, it was announced at March’s Consultation Council meeting that Title 5 language related to enrollment priorities is expected to go to the Board of Governors in May. The product of this group’s work appears to have been pre-determined. All of the identified workgroups, be they new workgroups or existing advisory groups, must be permitted to do the work, not merely serve as a proxy for field input.

Implementation of the task force recommendations needs a central coordinating body that understands the interaction of the different components of the recommendations and can organize the appropriate “staging” of the implementation actions. Pushing as much forward as soon as possible does not result in the most responsible choices. Good policy cannot be forced; it requires appropriate consultation. Individuals who may not understand the interactive complexity of the recommendations should not be allowed to propel them forward with little care.

TABLE 1 SSTF Recommendations 1-6; Theme Overlap
Theme 1.1 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4.1 5.1 5.2 6.1 6.2
College and Career Readiness x x                          
Assessment x x x             x x        
Technology   x x x             x     x  
Education plan     x x     x     x x        
BOG       x       x              
Common Application       x                      
Orientation     x                        
Success courses         x                    
"Sustained intervention"         x x                  
Program of Study           x x       x        
Educational goal           x x x              
Enrollment priorities             x       x        
Unit Limits             x x              
Best Practice dissemination         x       x   x     x x
Basic skills options and resources                   x   x      
Pre and co-requisites                   x          
Curricular pathways                       x      
Counseling                         x   x
Professional Development                         x x  
Credit v non-credit                         x    
CCCOO stronger                           x  
Alternative funding model                       x      

Table 1 provides an overview of the recommendations and their explicit overlap, highlighting the need to consider many of the recommendations simultaneously or at least in a coordinated fashion. During the development of the recommendations, statewide observers and critics were repeatedly warned to not “cherry-pick” and to consider the recommendations as a package, yet the recommendations are now being propelled forward as discrete “cherries” with no explicit consideration as to how the components interact. The extensive overlap in the table indicates one complexity; the other involves the necessary staging. Some of the recommendations do truly stand on their own, and some of these must occur prior to the implementation of other components. Of those that do stand on their own, some involve actions that faculty should be pursuing in the immediate future. These have been flagged below with the words “Local action – Now.” Recommendations 1-6 are discussed below as belonging to one of three categories: 1. Recommendations that are Essentially “Stand Alone” or Do Not Require Staging, 2. Sequencing Critical, and 3. Undetermined.

1. Recommendations that are Essentially “Stand Alone” or Do Not Require Staging

Recommendation 1.1 (Local action – Now) Community Colleges will collaborate with K-12 education to jointly develop new common standards for college and career readiness that are aligned with high school exit standards.

Recommendation 1.1 requires no formal action for implementation and reminds both the system and individual colleges of the need to work with our K-12 partners. Many colleges have long-standing collaborations that are consistent with this recommendation. In communities where this is not the case, this recommendation should serve as a reminder of the importance of doing all that can be done to ensure that the students who come to the college are as prepared as possible. At the state level, the Academic Senate is working to respond in a timely manner to all requests for field input on the K-12 assessments currently being developed.

Recommendation 2.3
Community colleges will develop and use centralized and integrated technology, which can be accessed through campus or district web portals, to better guide students in their educational process.

If this recommendation is intended to answer much of the “how” of the other recommendations, its ability to do so has not been demonstrated. Recent interest in certain commercial products, such as MyEDU, suggests that some individuals or groups do hold such a vision. If a clear concept were established for what this technology would consist of and how it would really aid in the implementation of Recommendation 2.2, then perhaps this recommendation would need to be first. But because Recommendation 2.3 is currently ill-defined and certainly is not something that anyone in the field has indicated will be critical for achieving 2.2, we can set this one aside for now. Faculty at colleges where such technology is being explored should be watchful and advocate for appropriate protections for students; technology that is free to the college may have consequences for students that are not in their best interest.

Recommendation 3.3
Community Colleges will provide students the opportunity to consider the benefits of fulltime enrollment.

While some have expressed concern that this recommendation was initially intended to push students who should not be full time to enroll full time or to favor students who are full time over those who are not, the practice stated in the final version of the recommendation is, by all accounts, the status quo. When students are provided with information about financial aid, they are presented as a starting point with what aid they would receive as a full-time student. While “Research indicates a high correlation between full-time enrollment and students’ achievement of their educational objectives,” this conclusion surely does not apply when a student has personal full-time commitments, such as a family and a job.

Recommendation 3.4 (Local action – Now)
Community colleges will require students to begin addressing basic skills needs in their first year and will provide resources and options for them to attain the competencies needed to succeed in college-level work as part of their education plan.

The timing could not have been less fortuitous: just as Title 5 was finally changed to simplify the local application of prerequisites, the system was faced with monitoring the progress of the SSTF. The appropriate placement of prerequisites has long been a component of the faculty’s formula for increasing student success; faculty must now begin the process of establishing prerequisites as needed. We must move forward with the implementation of prerequisites not only in response to the recommendations (and as a means of pre-empting a statewide imposition of Recommendation 3.4), but more importantly because it is the right thing to do.

2. Sequencing Critical

Recommendation 2.2
Require all incoming community college students to: (1) participate in diagnostic assessment and orientation and (2) develop an education plan.

NOTE: Assessing and orienting all students is a goal to be achieved prior to implementation of a system-wide diagnostic assessment. Implementation of the spirit of this recommendation should not be delayed due to the need to develop a diagnostic assessment.

Recommendation 2.2 must come before a diagnostic assessment, with colleges assessing, orienting, and developing some form of education plan for all students. Prior to mandating a specified assessment, the system must be able to assess all students. And before having an education plan becomes a “high stakes” event, all students must have access to education plans. Before priority or financial aid is based on engaging in any activity, all students must have access to that activity. Currently we are faced with bill language (Senate Bill 1456, Lowenthal) that would mandate such activities, with no provisions for how we would fulfill this requirement. While some may be able to accept the discomfort associated with legislated mandates, implementing additional requirements that rely on these mandates before determining how they will be realized is a classic cart before the horse issue. Title 5 changes in priority that rely on legislated mandates cannot be implemented until after the implementation of those mandates. This intersection is where the connectivity of the recommendations conflicts with the chosen approach to the recommendations. Colleges need to address new mandates before additional requirements are placed upon them – or, rather, upon students who will be more anxious than ever to obtain the limited services colleges are currently not fully funded to provide.

Recommendation 2.5
Encourage students to declare a program of study upon admission, intervene if a declaration is not made by the end of their second term, and require declaration by the end their third term in order to maintain enrollment priority.

This recommendation needs to be modified: “program of study” is a term that has no publicized definition in our system, and definitions found elsewhere do not make sense in this context. Assuming “program of study” is simply the declaration of an educational goal or objective, students need support to make informed “declarations.” Students currently check boxes with little or no guidance when they register, and proliferating the uninformed checking of boxes is certainly not the intent of this recommendation. This recommendation presumes informed students making informed choices, indicating a general educational goal at admission and a more specific goal after some specified time period. A better approach would be to require a more specific goal after completion of a specified number of units. We should not force students to make decisions based on terms completed when declaration by a given term could mean requiring a goal to be stated after completing as few as two units. Recommendation 2.5 must follow the critical 2.2 as it presumes students have access to, at a minimum, resources to assist in goal-setting and, at best, a qualified person to facilitate informed decision-making.

Recommendation 2.1
Community colleges will develop and implement a common centralized assessment for English reading and writing, mathematics, and ESL that can provide diagnostic information to inform curriculum development and student placement and that, over time, will be aligned with the K-12 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and assessments.

The legislation that has been introduced to implement some components of the recommendations acknowledges that one cannot mandate an assessment until that assessment exists. This requirement is a significant component of the recommendations that interacts with other elements. Its implementation will necessarily have to follow some of the other recommendations, and others will need to follow it. Most notably, it must follow 2.2 and it must precede 2.4 and any connection of funding to its use. Reason to be concerned with this recommendation also exists because financial incentives may pressure colleges to change to an interim assessment before the ultimate mandated assessment is introduced.

Recommendation 2.4
Require students whose diagnostic assessments show a lack of readiness for college to participate in a support resource, such as a student success course, learning community, or other sustained intervention, provided by the college for new students.

No explanation is needed here: this recommendation cannot be implemented until the diagnostic assessment exists and is implemented systemwide. Hopefully colleges will be able to develop approaches to implementing 2.4 during the time it takes to develop and adopt the diagnostic assessment.

Recommendation 3.1
The Community Colleges will adopt system-wide enrollment priorities that: (1) reflect the core mission of transfer, career technical education and basic skills development; (2) encourage students to identify their educational objective and follow a prescribed path most likely to lead to success; (3) ensure access and the opportunity for success for new students; and (4) incentivize students to make progress toward their educational goal.

Recommendation 3.1 should not even be discussed in earnest until 2.2 (requires all matriculation services for all new non-exempt students) and 2.5 (declare a program of study by the end of the third term) have been fully implemented. We cannot logically move forward with implementing 3.1 when a wide array of unanswered questions and existing competing priorities remain. Furthermore, the details of 3.1 are resource-intensive and require detailed monitoring of students and, potentially, penalizing students when they are not able to enroll in the courses that they truly need. Colleges should be permitted to move towards these goals in ways that make sense for them, and system-level mandates should be delayed until other aspects of the recommendations have been implemented. While the recommendations envision a world where all students will be able to enroll in all the courses that they need, no current data or research indicates that our capacity to offer courses will match student needs in the near future. As such, we should not establish a system that punishes students for the under-funded status of our system. Establishing priorities with seemingly endless exceptions does not make sense. This recommendation needs extensive discussion before any regulatory changes are implemented at the system level.

Proposed Modifications to Enrollment Priority
Continuing students should lose enrollment priority if they: Concerns/issues:
1. Do not follow their original or a revised education plan. 1. Presumes students can change education plans as needed and that students have access to all the courses they need.
2. Are placed for two consecutive terms on Academic Probation (GPA below 2.0 after attempting 12 or more units) or Progress Probation (failure to successfully complete at least 50 percent of their classes). 2. If students are to be penalized for failing to progress, support services must be in place to assist students. Colleges need to be able to proactively support struggling students, as opposed to just limiting their access to courses. This recommendation seems to presume willful intent to not progress.
3. Fail to declare a program of study by the end of their third term. 3. Program of study should be removed and a unit threshold for declaring an educational objective established.
4. Accrue 100 units, not including Basic Skills and ESL courses. 4. Students accumulate units for many reasons. Colleges need to establish how best to implement this requirement so as not to inappropriately terminate a student’s priority.

Recommendation 3.2
Require students receiving Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waivers to meet various conditions and requirements, as specified below.
(A) Require students receiving a BOG Fee Waiver to identify a degree, certificate, transfer, or career advancement goal.
(B) Require students to meet institutional satisfactory progress standards to be eligible for the fee waiver renewal.
(C) Limit the number of units covered under a BOG Fee Waiver to 110 units.

While the recommendations state that “Although saving money is not the intent or purpose of these recommendations, implementation will likely result in modest short-term cost savings that must be captured and reallocated within the community college system for reinvestment in the student support and retention activities identified in the student success plan” (p. 35), this recommendation clearly seems intended to save money. While the recommendation is understandable from an objective perspective given the current funding decreases the system has suffered due to an increase in the “take” rate for BOG fee waivers, the hasty implementation of this recommendation is nevertheless unjustified because it would necessarily impact certain populations more than others.

3. Undetermined
Recommendation 4.1
Highest priority for course offerings shall be given to credit and noncredit courses that advance students’ academic progress in the areas of basic skills, ESL, CTE, degree and certificate attainment, and transfer, in the context of labor market and economic development needs of the community.

Recommendation 4.1 reminds us, once again, of our need to focus on basic skills (and ESL), CTE, and transfer. As colleges have presumably been altering their course offerings in a manner consistent with this recommendation since it became an oft-heard message, no apparent action needs to be taken to implement it – unless the intent of the recommendation is to begin policing local decisions regarding course offerings. The “Requirements for Implementation” do suggest that the Chancellor’s Office might hope to pursue this direction. Hopefully the implementation of this recommendation will involve a thoughtful process that achieves the appropriate balance between system-level “guidance” and local control.

Recommendation 5.1
Community colleges will support the development of alternatives to traditional basic skills curriculum and incentivize colleges to take to scale successful model programs for delivering basic skills instruction.

This recommendation could have been placed in the first category and flagged for immediate local action, but some components of it remain unclear. We have done much work towards improving basic skills instruction in recent history, work that certainly continues to the present day.

Recommendation 5.2
The state should develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing basic skills education in California that results in a system that provides all adults with the access to basic skills courses in mathematics and English. In addition, the state should develop a comparable strategy for addressing the needs of adults for courses in English as a second language (ESL.)

The need to serve adult learners in the State of California remains a critical one. This recommendation highlights the need to develop a comprehensive plan for addressing adult education.

Recommendations 6.1 and 6.2
Community colleges will create a continuum of strategic professional development opportunities, for all faculty, staff, and administrators to be better prepared to respond to the evolving student needs and measures of student success.

Community colleges will direct professional development resources for both faculty and staff toward improving basic skills instruction and support services.

The Academic Senate obviously will play a role in implementing these recommendations. We are engaging in professional development activities all the time, and we look forward to working with the Chancellor’s Office to move these recommendations forward. Although some components of these recommendations remain unclear and promote head-scratching, we hope to work through those kinks during the implementation process.


The SSTF recommendations are a complicated collection of interacting elements. These elements must be implemented in a thoughtful and coordinated manner. We will continue to advocate for the necessary staging of these elements as implementation progresses.